“Stay close,” I said turning to make sure we were all still together. I needn’t have said anything, we were the embodiment of a tight knit group – all walking closer together than we would have been were we walking to, for example, a food festival. Marcel had clipped my heels three times already. He did it a forth time I was likely to go ape-shit. Enrique was carrying a fence post but the rest of us were unarmed. We were walking in the road as the pavements were bumped, cracked and overgrown. There was no danger of getting run down. We’d passed a couple of people, elderly and non-threatening who hadn’t acknowledged us and had simply scuttled by hoping not to be noticed. The days of greeting strangers had long since gone. We were approaching St Peters Village. We had to pass through St Peters Village to get to Beaumont, it was unavoidable.
There would be people in St Peters. And the Co-op. That wretched Co-op.
The smell hit us before we’d even turned the corner. The unmistakable stink of fish sauce, damp vegetation and faeces. Paula made a gagging sound. “Relax guys,” I urged them but whereas before, when passing The Amaizin’ Maze, we’d been chatting, now, as buildings closed in around us, we were silent. The sky was heavy and foreboding but it wasn’t raining, yet. It was May or July. Three fighter jets screamed past at high altitude, visible only intermittently, and they still elicited awe.
“Oh jesus!” Gasped Paula when the Co-op loomed into view like a giant green monument to oppression and despair. A lunatic’s cathedral to a substandard and frustrating shopping experience. St Peter had been heavily populated compared to St Ouen where we’d come from and the chances were it still, comparatively, was. I’d thought the greater the number of desperate humans in situ the greater the chaos but the Co-op, although dark, had not been raze d to the ground. Curtains twitched as we made our way but we had no interest in finding life here, we were actively trying to avoid it. There was nothing good in St Peter, nothing for us, a group of four Spar employees on the move, on a mission.
Our group saw another group of people – three, the most we’d seen together since we left – stood outside the doors of the Co-op. The smell of rot was seeping out of the store and across the road to us like an invisible pyroclastic flow from a silently erupting volcano in a cemetery.
“Keep walking. Don’t look,” I said while using all of my will to look down at the destroyed tarmac.
It’s too easy to lay all the blame for all this at the sandaled feet of the Greeks so, yeah, nice one Greeks, you fucking dicks. Wash your balls next time and also pay you taxes while you’re at it. They did make nice yoghurt though. Mmm, yoghurt. Haven’t seen yoghurt for a while. The coolers hadn’t been on for an age, since the electricity ran out. We’ve been lucky though, I have to keep telling myself that. Certainly there were people worse off than us. And it’s been a shit time to be a cow lately. We had the contents of a shop to eat and most didn’t have that luxury. Lucky. We’re lucky guys. There are also people better off than us. My wife and kids for example. They were whisked away pretty soon after the end came. Her father, the President of Jersey, turned up one night soon after the fighting started in his Volvo V60 Sportswagon. The fighting wasn’t in his Volvo. It was in Spain the last we’d heard. He was in his Volvo. Driving it.
“Let’s go!” He announced clapping his hands.
“Go? Go where?” My wife has asked. He had then whispered something to her and she’d gone, “Oooh!”
“Do you want to come?” He’d asked me. “You don’t have to,” he’d added before I could reply.
“Erm,” I’d said. I was picking up the vibe he didn’t want me to go. I did want to go.
“Good luck!” He said extending his hand. I had been on the verge of saying, ‘no, I’ll come.’ He’d never shaken my hand before. Twice he’d left me hanging when I’d held my hand out to him. Once at our wedding and once at some party. Both times he’d acted as if he hadn’t seen my extended hand but he must’ve, out of his peripheral vision. I’d taken his hand that night and then he’d ushered my family into his car.
“You don’t need anything?” I’d asked her through the Volvo’s window. She’d asked her dad if they needed anything. He told her that he’d get them some good stuff and to leave everything else for him. I was him. Then they were driving away. I gave the departing car a thumbs up but her dad’s car had tellies in the back of the headrests and they were all – apart from Pauly who was lying on his back in the back – watching the latest Bond film, ‘Tempered Steel.’ In the darkness all I saw as they pulled out into the road were the Volvo’s rear lights and Daniel Craig crying.
I turned up for work every morning as did Enrique, Paula and Marcel. I think we thought if we still turned up for work then things would be okay. We weren’t getting paid of course but then money had soon lost any value it had once had. We had candles, food and the hope that things would just start to get better. Things will get better one day but I don’t know when. I feel they’re still getting worse. It started so slowly, like a rock fall. A few boulders came loose from the top and we watched them bounce down but those tumbling rocks loosened more boulders and incredibly quickly the whole side of the mountain was sliding down with us on it. Even if we have all come to rest on the valley floor there’s no obvious way back up. The cows went first. Then the fuel went before the electricity. Without fuel people couldn’t get to our shop unless they really wanted to and as no papers or milk were coming in people didn’t want to. We survived just on the stock that was on the shelves. When it was cold we built a fire in the car park. Like I said, we were lucky.
I tried not to think what the staff at the Co-op must’ve been through. Just get past here, just get past here, I told myself resisting the urge to run. After the Co-op we’d just have to get down Beaumont Hill and then we’d be at the front and on our way. On the front we could take stock. When we got to the front we’d at least have the ocean on one side of us whereas up here we were surrounded on all sides by shadows and things unseen.
“Shit!” I heard Paula say. I looked at her. She’d ignored my orders and was staring over at the Co-op. “We should have stayed in the shop!” She groaned. I looked over and saw two men and a woman running crab-like over to us, they were hooting and moved like chimpanzees wearing green polo shirts which is how a crab would run if it was bipedal and dressed. Enrique moved past me holding his club across him. I had actually been the one least willing to abandon the shop. We could have stayed a few more weeks as we hadn’t even touched the soup, dark chocolate or the salt and vinegar crisps. Enrique was keenest to leave and would have left a while ago but I’d managed to convince him to give it more time but I knew when time was up. It was time to try to get to town, to at least see if the rumours were true. Enrique hates soup. This morning we’d filled our rucksacks with what edible things were left in the shop and then left. Enrique set fire to his Cadillac. He didn’t want anybody getting their hands on it. We watched it crackle and burn for a while and I don’t know, it was sort of a statement, you know? Of intent. It was the end of that life. On the road I’d felt we were doing to right thing, the only thing. It was just taking that first step and facing things, that was the hard part. The thought of seeing groups of other people was the sort of thing that had made me reluctant to leave but when actually faced with them that fear had gone and was replaced with, not apathy but just a sense of, I don’t know, whatever.
“Take it easy,” I told Enrique but I loosened my shoulders, ready to start windmilling. The damaged people smelt as bad as their shop.
“Shop shop!” One cried pointing at the shop and dancing in front of us.
“Oh yeah, nice one mate!” I said but although I’d slowed I kept on walking. The three Co-op workers just backed up but still moved with us.
“My name’s Dave!” He said with some pride. His cheek was horribly swollen, probably an abscess, he must’ve been in terrible pain but he was too stupid to notice.
“Oh that’s lovely Dave,” I said checking Paula was okay. She looked terrified. I smiled at her briefly. “Dave, you better get back to work!” I said still smiling.
“Dave work!” Shouted Dave and then without a pause he ran full tilt boogie back towards the shop. The other two Co-Op workers looked at each other and then ran after him, heads down. That was easy, I thought. Too easy.
“That was easy,” I said.
“Too easy,” replied Paula looking warily over at the Co-op.
“Ha, I was thinking that!” I told her. We were all walking faster.
“It no change at all,” Enrique said dragging the fence post along the floor and he was right. The Co-op and its staff looked, smelled and behaved as if nothing had happened. As if the World hadn’t slipped. “Maybe they’ve still got cigarettes?” Said Paula.
“Do you want to go in and find out?” I asked her laughing.
“Fuck no!” She replied. “Anywhere but the Co-op.”
“I was in there once, right, and there were seventeen staff and three customers. Guess how long the queue at the till was?”
“Three!” The others cried in unison.
“Three,” I confirmed. “They really are a useless bunch of fuckers at the best of times. And the fruit’s always manky.” We all laughed. “But you know, maybe things aren’t that bad,” I offered, wanting to but not quite believing it myself. Without the internet, TV or radio our picture of what had happened was built mainly on Chinese whispers, Gertrude the Whore and rumour. We’d heard the explosions of course but people loved to embellish things, I knew that. I was thinking maybe the more populated an area the more normal things would be. People find a way, you know? I had hope that maybe some infrastructure would remain in town. Maybe there’d be some order there. Hopefully some fucking cigarettes. Of course the fear was it could be so much worse than we feared. There was only one way to find out. I still kept checking behind us as we made our way through the abandoned vehicles and dead flyblown cows that were strewn down Beaumont Hill.
At the bottom of the hill was the deserted roundabout. We’d set off with the intention of heading left and along the front to town however a large piece of cardboard was hung from a lamppost. Written on it in red gloss paint and above an arrow pointing right was the word HELP.
“Hlep?” Said Enrique.
“Says help.” I looked around, there were no signs of life. “Can’t be old, that cardboard hasn’t got wet.” I said.
“Yeah but does it mean help or help?” Asked Paula.
“How the fuck should I know?” I snapped, “That was good though, eh? The way I knew it wasn’t old?” I stared at the word. I looked at it until it was no longer a word in the English language. “What do you reckon?” I asked the group.
WHAT DO YOU RECKON?
A. Head to town
B. Investigate the sign’s origin
C. Fuck this shit
“I’ve got to eat something,” said Paula. We were outside of what remained of The Gunsite Cafe. Everything remained of The Gunsite because it’s made of concrete about three feet thick. It was originally a gun emplacement which the Germans built into the sea wall during WWII, then it was a cafe that did awesome breakfasts and Portuguese rolls, and now it was long abandoned.
Paula was probably the only person left on Earth who had gotten fatter lately. She didn’t stop eating. She had eaten half the stock from the shop on her own, I’m not kidding. We’d only been going an hour FFS. In front of the Gunsite, running from St Aubin on one side of the curved bay to town on the other end, was the old cycle track and promenade. The route I had run along on thousands of occasions was now deep under sand and smashed hobie cats. The beach was on the other side of the cafe although it seemed both sides were merging together. It looked like the Gunsite, with no Transport and Technical Services people to keep it swept, would soon be no more than a concrete island on a beach that was creeping slowly inland.
“You can’t wait? You have to eat now?”
“No, I’m getting the shakes. Give me one of those white Marathons. I’m going to black out, seriously. I could eat a scabby horse and I’m not even joking,” she replied.
“Eat that one!” Said Enrique pointing at a scabby horse that was standing over where there was once a row of bicycle stands. The stands had been removed by persons unknown.
“Fuck, there is a scabby horse!” She said. “I didn’t see it! I just, wow…”
“Well chu have to eat it now,” said Enrique, “chu said!”
“Yeah go on Paula, go and eat it!” I said encouraging her. “Eat it! Eat it!” I started. I clapped my hands on both the ‘eat’ and the ‘it’. Marcel and Enrique joined in. We were clapping as we chanted. The horse looked at us. I looked away from it feeling a bit guilty but continued to chant.
We went over to it expecting in to run away but it just watched us approach with its tail flicking
“Hello horse!” I said. It definitely had mange. “You’ve gotta lick it at least,” I said to Paula.
“Fuck off!” She replied.
“Just touch it with your tongue, go on!”
“I give you fifty pounds if you lick dat horsey.”
“I’m not licking a horse,” Paula said with obvious finality, as if it hadn’t been her suggestion in the first place. Hypocrite.
“I will!” Said Marcel. “For £50.”
“Go on then,” said Paula. She started up my chant and clapping but we didn’t join in.
“Nah, don’t bother,” I told Marcel.
“Eh? Why don’t you want him to lick it?” She asked seemingly disgusted.
“I don’t know. It’s not funny anymore. Come on, you can eat something,” I told her to shut her up.
“Fuck that, he’s licking the horse!” Paula grabbed the back of Marcel’s head and started pushing it towards the horse’s flank but Marcel was small and powerful and resisted easily. Paula placed her other hand on the back of Marcel’s head and really leant into it. With a deft movement Marcel moved his head to the side causing Paula to stumble forward. She went to place her hands on his head again but he swiped them away and so frustrated she punched him on the arm as hard as she could. Marcel pushed her back and rubbed the top of his arm. Enrique’s face flickered between displaying delight and a sense of urgency and he was mouthing foreign words as he watched it all unfold.
“Come on guys, break it up,” I said stepping between the warring factions. Even though Paula had got the best shot in she still seemed the angrier. “Come on,” I said again. Paula took a deep breath. I thought that was the end of it but she was bluffing. When Marcel nodded she swung a leg towards Marcel’s testicles and judging by his reaction she just clipped the bottom of them, the worst connection possible.
“Oh la vache!” Managed Marcel in the desperate lucid seconds you get between having your nuts clipped and the pain overwhelming you. He knew what was coming and he could do nothing about it. He stood wide-eyed but crouching like Marilyn Monroe on a grated pavement for a few seconds slowly shaking his head before standing fully upright, knees slightly crossed over with his hands on his hips like Dale Winton. His cheeks were inflated and he started walking in an elliptical fashion with his eyes half closed, in large circles in front of the doors of what was once, The Gunsite Cafe.
“You shouldn’t do that,” I said to Paula. “We’ll eat, yeah?”
The tables that had once occupied the seating area outside the cafe had long since gone. Either washed over the wall into the sea or more likely taken for firewood. In their place were small sand dunes and after surveying the view that’s where we sat.
“I bloody-well love these,” said Paula opening her second white Marathon. We’d found them behind a cupboard in the store room. Enrique and I didn’t eat. When Marcel eventually came to join us Paula offered him one of her ancient chocolate bars but he declined the probably poisonous gesture of reconciliation.
“So we’re going that way,” I said, my back against the sea wall and pointing with my left thumb towards St Aubin and the direction in which the mysterious sign had pointed. The public vote had been a massive success. Three people had voted for this option. Now I just had to think of what the sign could be about – I’d sort wasted much of the post going on about a horse. A horse whose role was not yet clearly defined. I was thinking that possibly the horse would talk. That’s a bit mental though. Perhaps while we were sitting there the horse would come over, silent on the sand, and startle Enrique who would then instinctively swing around and punch the horse in the face killing it stone dead. Could Enrique kill a horse with a single punch? I doubt it. The horse was poorly for sure but Enrique is no Rambo.
“You reckon you could kill that horse with a single punch?” I asked Enrique. He was drawing patterns in the sand with a shell. He looked up.
“Yeah, one punch. You reckon?”
“No,” he said going back to his pattern.
“I could!” Said Marcel.
“Yeah alright Marcel, take it easy,” I said. I looked over my shoulder and towards St Aubin. I knew St Aubin well. It had a small harbour, we could still see the piers from where we were. We could also see the church where we’d all gone to kiss the cross that Good Friday. It was impossible to gauge the condition of the other buildings from this distance. It had been a touristy place really mainly full of restaurants and bars. Terry the Train ran from St Aubin to town and back. I’d sometimes try and race it when I was running but I haven’t run since my Garmin went flat. The pub from Bergerac is in St Aubin but in the show it was called The Royal Barge whereas in real life it was called The Old Court House. What else remained in St Aubin we would find out.
“Done?” I asked getting up and brushing the sand off me. Paula and Marcel stood up but Enrique remained distracted on sand. “You okay?” I asked him. It was unusual for Enrique to be so reserved.
“Ah!” He said staring up at the sky for a moment. “I just really really want some heroin, si? I miss it, in my heart.” He looked back at the sand.
“Oh Enrique!” I said hunkering down next to him. “I know mate, we’re all looking for that special thing. And we’re going to find it. I’m sure of it.” I looked up at Paula and Marcel, they didn’t look so convinced. “We are, I’m telling you. We’re going to get loads of heroin for Enrique. I’m going to get cigarettes. Marcel, what is it you want?”
“Courage,” He replied while looking at his feet gently kicking up plumes of sand.
“We’re going to get you some of that, I promise. And Paula?”
“Did he just say courage? Did you just say courage?” Paula was pointing and laughing at Marcel.
“Leave him alone Paula. What is it you want from this?”
“Dunno,” she replied but the way she stared at the horizon got me out of having to think of something right now.
Enrique got to his feet and after checking we had everything we were ready to head to St Aubin.
“What about the horse?” I asked the group.
“Fuck it,” said Paula. Enrique agreed.
I gave its sad eyes one last look and then agreed with them, “yeah, fuck it. Bye bye horsey!” I said and we were once again on our way. After about a kilometre Marcel pointed to something on the beach. My eyes are shit so normally when somebody points something out to me that’s far away I just go, ‘oh yeah,’and hope that’s the end of it. The beach was littered with debris anyway.
“Look!” Said Marcel again going over the wall and pointing.
“Probably a bouy,” I guessed but going by Enrique’s reaction it clearly wasn’t. I should have brought my glasses with me.
“It’s a… what iz dat?” He asked.
We found the steps going down to the beach and started down the beach. The tide was out. Whatever we were heading to would be well underwater when the tide came in.
“It’s a door!” Said Paula. I squinted but it could have been fucking anything.
“Heh!” Said Enrique when we got to it. It was a door, that mystery was solved but what was holding it up was a much bigger puzzle. A slight breeze should have pushed it over. I wasn’t that surprised to notice HELP painted on the door in the same red gloss paint as it had been on the sign at the roundabout. I gave the door a nudge but it didn’t move.
“Is it set into the sand?” I asked myself more than anybody else but when I crouched down I saw there was a gap pretty much all along the bottom of the door. “This is fucked.” I said. I pushed to door harder and it gave fractionally but I could tell the anchor points seemed to be in places they couldn’t possibly be. I tried the door handle, just to see if it was fixed in position or a real handle. It twisted easily and then the door somehow swung away from us.
“Holy fucking shit!” Exclaimed Enrique stumbling backwards.
“That is fucking bananas!” Marvelled Paula. I was speechless. Marcel came and peered into the blurred space that the door had revealed. It looked like a Photoshop job. Marcel leant closer, careful to keep his centre of gravity well away from the – let’s face it, it was a portal – but it did him no good because Paula pushed him in. He tried to stop himself on the door frame but there wasn’t one. He was gone. Paula scratched her ear innocently.
“Where’s he… what have you done?” I asked her. Enrique was looking at the whole situation. He was bewildered. “Where’s he gone?” I asked.
“He’ll be fine,” said Paula. “Come on, let’s go to St Aubin.” She was pushing me away from the door.
“Oh no, we’ll have to go after him,” I said shaking free. For the next five minutes we argued the pros and cons of going through the doorway.
Pro: Possible help.
Con: Possible death
Con: Possible hell
Con: Possible dinosaurs
In the end we decided to give it a bash.
“On the count of three, okay?” I said. “And no fucking about. On three we all run through, yeah?” The other two nodded agreement. “Okay, one, two, thr-” The fuckers didn’t move. “Pricks, I knew you’d do that.”
“I was wait for you!” Said Enrique. Yeah right.
“We’ll hold hands,” I said reaching for their hands. “One, two, three!” and I ran into the blur dragging the other two with me. If I hadn’t had tight hold they wouldn’t have come, I was sure, wankers. I didn’t feel anything though, I perhaps saw a flash of light. Not sure. When I opened my eyes we were standing outside of the Gunsite next to the horse. “What the fuck?” I asked.
Enrique and Paula were looking around. “Was that it?” Asked Paula.
“Where’s Marcel?” I asked. We all looked around.
“Maybe this is a different sort of… dimension?” Offered Paula.
“Nah, there’s your chocolate wrappers,” I said pointing to Paula’s chocolate wrappers that she left in the sand near Enrique’s doodle. “What happened to Marcel?”
“Der!” Said Enrique pointing out to the beach. I small dot was moving away across the sand. Towards the door.
“He must be going to look for us,” I said, “come on!” And we hurried down onto the beach and followed Marcel’s footprints. When we got to the door he was nowhere to be seen. “He’s gone through it again! Come on!” I said pulling the other two through the doorhole.
The horse was still there but again no Marcel.
“Der!” Cried Enrique pointing at a speck moving across the beach.
“Oh for fucks sake. Shall we wait here?” I suggested. The others agreed. We waited for about twenty minutes but for some reason Marcel didn’t appear. “I bet he’s waiting by the door.”
“What a fucking idiot!” Said Paula.
“Tell you what, you two stay here, and I’ll run down to the door and get him.” Running across the sand was hard work but it felt good. My lungs were working perfectly. It’s had been ages since I smoked. Too long. That first cigarette was going to rip my lungs right out. It would feel brilliant. That thought made me run faster. With each step on the journey, even if it’s a backwards one we will be moving forward. Marcel was happy to see me and we went though the door for the last time.
“You’re a cunt!” Marcel said to Paula.
“I’m sorry about that,” she lied.
“Forget that. What does this mean? What is this?” I said. The other three all did different thinking faces. Enrique tapped the side of his face looking skyward. “Help, it said on the door. The sign said help. There’s either help for us here or somebody we should help,” I said vocalising all that we knew, all the clues we had gathered.
“Only horsey here,” said Enrique. I looked at the horse. It was scabby but apar- wait there, there was a rope tied to its front offside leg. I went around and took hold of the rope, and followed it, pulling it from the sand where it was buried.
“I think this is it!” I announced when I reached the anvil which was what the other end of the rope was tied to.
“Untie it!” Said Paula. D’you fink so? I thought. I untied the main body of the knot and left just a single loop remaining. “Enrique! Get ready, I think we’re going to get help now, when we help this horse.” Enrique went and studied the horse. “Here goes!” I said taking the last loop off. The horse was free.
“Thank you so much, and now I must repay t-” The horse managed to say before Enrique, badly shocked and just reacting instinctively out of fear whirled wildly and launched a haymaker of incredible power right onto the horse’s nose. “Oh I say,” said the horse stumbling drunkenly cross-legged before it collapsed and died. Enrique was studying his fist as if he’d never seen if before. I went over to the fallen animal. The others joined me.
“Don’t think we were supposed to do that,” I said.
“It makes no sense at all. This whole thing. It makes absolutely no sense!” Cried Paula. “Why was the sign pointing at the door? Why wasn’t it pointing to the horse?”
“I don’t know,” I told her honestly. “But one thing’s for sure, we have to get to St Aubin now.”
The others nodded while still studying the dead horse. Marcel looked up. “Why do we have to go to St Aubin?” He pronounced St Aubin as ‘sant o’ban’.
“That’s right, we have to get to St Aubin,” I said peering across the mile and a half that separated us from our destination.
“Fucking hell, you nailed that horse, buddy!” I said to Enrique, mainly to calm him down because after the adrenaline had left his body his lower lip had begun to tremble. He was holding the wrist of his left arm up with the hand of his right. His fingers, the ones on his left hand with which he’d punched the horse, were pointing everywhere, his hand was fucked, gone, forget about it. “Paula, could you fashion some finger splints?” I asked.
“No,” she replied.
“Okay, keep calm,” I said. I had an idea anyway. I went over to the bin that was still bolted to the wall of the Gunsite Cafe. I stuck my arm in and rummaged through trash from happier times. Incredibly I found exactly what I was looking for. Ice lolly sticks. “How’s your thumb?” I asked Enrique with my arm still in the bin.
“S’okay,” he replied through the pain. When I was sure I had a hand full of ice-lolly sticks I brought my hand out. I turned each over in my hands. “Gah! No jokes on these,” I said disappointed and theatrically cast them aside. Paula and Marcel were staring at me. “You know, laughter’s the best medicine?!”
“Not for a broken hand,” replied Paula.
“I know that Paula,” I sighed, “that was a joke, what I just did. We’re going to use sticks as finger splints.”
“I don’t get it,” she replied.
“Did you get it?” I asked Marcel.
“No,” said Marcel as I picked up the sticks.
“Hold out your hand,” I told Enrique. He was as reluctant to do it as I was to touch it but he did as he was told. “So we just have to put a stick under each finger and straighten it, yeah?” Enrique moaned. “It’ll only hurt for a second,” I assured him. “We need something to, you know, to wrap it.” I looked around. “Paula, you got any of those things that make pony tails in hair?”
“A hair band?”
“I don’t know what it’s called. Like a fabric elastic band, with a metal bit on? There’s always loads on them on the floor outside the kids’ school.” The kids. I hadn’t thought about the kids. I couldn’t think about them now either… I shook my head to erase the memories the way you shake an Etch-a-Sketch to be rid of the shitty picture which was nothing like the picture you’d intended to draw when you first twisted the knobs and seen a lovely straight-line appear. Curves were the problem. Without curves you can’t draw anything.
Paula handed me four hair bands. “Cool, thanks” I said taking them, kneeling and putting them on the floor next to the sticks the way a surgeon first lays out his pliers and knives and protractors. “Put your hand on the floor,” I asked Enrique. He moaned again but gently, supporting his weight with his good hand, he put his bad hand limply on the floor. Oh my God what a disaster his hand was! His little finger was just flopping about, the other three were all fixed at lunatic angles. I tried to push one down but Enrique screamed as soon as I applied pressure. I went for a different one. Again his screams stopped me from manipulating it. After a good thirty minutes of toil and pain and sweat and swearing I just sort of stuck four sticks from his palm to roughly where his fingers should be and then put four hair bands around his hand to hold them in place. It looked like a spastic’s attempt to make his hand look like Freddy Krueger’s for a real show stopper at the Monster Mash of a Halloween Jamboree at that place the special bus goes to. “That’ll have to do,” I said standing and surveying the horizon and then the sky and then our destination. “We better make a move,” I told them, “it’ll be dark tonight.”
Ten metres into our journey Enrique said, “oh they fell off.” He was looking down on the floor at the ice lolly sticks.
“Ah, fuck it,” I told him and we continued on towards whatever lay ahead for us in St Aubin.
A kilometre into our journey Marcel noticed that the door on the beach had gone. I squinted over to where it had been and acted surprised but I wouldn’t have been able to see it if it had been still there. And then, as we walked, I told the group what had been bothering me.
“This is going to sound crazy, okay?”
“What?” Asked Paula. I screamed a garbled noise reminiscent of Bobcat Goldthwaite’s voice from the Police Academy movies. I looked at the others but they were just staring ahead.
“That was a joke. No, listen to this. Okay? Actually let’s stop while we talk.”
“I’m going to have another Marathon,” said Paula.
When they were all sat on the sea wall I began. “Have any of you read The Dark Tower series of books?” Marcel and Enrique shook their heads but Paula wasn’t sure and asked what they were about. “You’d remember if you’d read them. Stephen King?”
Paula shook her head, “They’re too scary for me.”
“Actually a lot of Stephen King’s book aren’t out and out horror. You know, Stand by Me? The film?” I asked. They all shook their heads. “The Green Mile? Shawshank Redemption?”
“I think I saw that one,” said Paula. “It had that guy in it. From the adverts?”
“That’s the one,” I confirmed and Paula beamed with pride. “They’re Stephen King stories but he did a series of books called The Dark Tower. Now these books are about a world that’s gone to shit, yeah?” The others nodded apart from Marcel. He wasn’t listening. “Now this is the weird thing. In the books there are these doors on a beach that lead places. Just like that one. But that one’s gone,” I guessed. “Not just that. A character in the book wears a hat.”
“Just like Enrique!” Cried Paula.
“That’s right,” I said. “And the guy with the hat has a fucked up hand.”
“Just like Enrique!” Cried Paula again.
“So am I in it?” Asked Paula.
“See… not really, there was a kind of handsome, streetwise guy in it, that’s probably me. There was an annoying kid in it. Marcel’s small.” Marcel looked at me at the mention of his name. “But the woman in it, well, she’s black and had no legs.”
“That’s not me,” said Paula, certain in herself.
“No, but you do have a black boyfriend, yeah? And you do get, well, legless, agreed?”
“Look I know it doesn’t fit perfectly but you have to admit. With the doors and the hat? The handsome guy? There’s also a Snarf from Thundercats in the book. This stupid talking badger thing. I know it’s not quite a perfect fit but you have to admit…”
“So what happen in story?” Asked Enrique. He was intrigued.
“Well that’s the problem. See, they guy in the hat was looking for this Dark Tower, yeah? But there were six or seven books and the first few were cool but then it turned to absolute dogshit. I mean it was fucking stupid. I read half the penultimate book and just fucking skipped the last one all together.”
“So…” Mused Paula.
“Hold on, that’s not everything. Before… No, this was as it was turning to shit the book started going on about this beautiful red flower on a building site. It was like, was the flower the tower? Hey that rhymes! Was it the tower they were searching for or was it this flower. Was the flower a metaphor for the tower?”
“You donno?” Asked Enrique.
“No, like I said, turned to shit I couldn’t read it anymore,” I admitted. Enrique shook his head as if the hope of salvation had been dangled in front of him and then cruelly hooked away. “Enrique,” I said solemnly, I wanted his full attention. “This flower was a magic flower, okay? It was red and when you touched it things were all okay and brilliant. You got a big big big fucking buzz on.”
“A poppy!” Said Paula. Enrique looked at her not understanding.
“That’s right Paula! A poppy! Enrique, don’t you see? That’s what they make heroin out of, I think!”
“So you say we must do what happen in the book?” He asked as he panted slightly at the mention of heroin.
“I can’t think of anything else,” I said flatly.
“But we donno what happen in book!” Shouted Enrique trembling with frustration.
“That’s why we have to find The Dark Tower. That’s the name of the one I couldn’t be arsed reading. We have to find a copy of The Dark Tower – to get the answers, and I’ve got a feeling there’s a copy of it in St Aubin!”
“There’s more likely to be a copy in town, if the library’s still there, isn’t there?” Asked Paula suddenly being helpful.
“Yeah I know but we’re nearly at St Aubin now. It’s only there,” I said pointing at St Aubin which was right there.
The sky had darkened and the wind had picked up noticeably since Enrique killed the horse with his bare hand. Once upon a time I would have looked at flags on buildings to gauge the strength of the wind but any flags had long since been rent from their poles and now it was the swirling rubbish that warned of an imminent storm.
“It’s going to rain,” I said as we passed La Haule slipway and walked the last half mile towards St Aubin. At a guess it was about 4pm.
“You’re a weatherman now, are you?” Asked Paula.
“Yeah, I am actually.” I replied. “The top one. When people want to kn-“
“Stop!” Said Enrique. “Tell me more of the book.”
“I’ve told you all I know, guy with a hat, the doors. Snarf. You know? There were no answers just more questions, I’m sorry.”
“We must find the Black Tower!” Said Enrique, his face fixed and waxy through pain from his hand.
“Dark Tower, Black Tower’s a wine.”
“The Dark Tower. I hope it is here,” said Enrique looking across the buildings that stretched before us as we walked on resolutely.
“Actually there were these big animal robots,” I remembered. “They didn’t really do anything although they seemed important at one stage, like they were going to have a big part to play then, nothing. A bit like Gertrude the Whore.” Without looking I sensed Enrique shake his head. “Oh yeah, also all the characters in it started talking all Cornish and old fashioned.”
“Cornish?” Said Paula.
“Yeah, like, for the first few books the people in it spoke normal and then suddenly they were giving it all, ‘say true, Roland, tis a… a fucking fine mead I be drinking’, like that, They started talking like… like fucking pirates.”
“Roland?” Said Paula.
“The guy with the hat was called Roland.”
“Roland?!” Paula couldn’t get her head around that. “Like the fat kid from Grange Hill?”
“I didn’t make the name up, Paula!” I felt on trial. “Anyway, you can talk, with your rucksack full of mouldy chocolate,” that was mean of me. “Roland of Gilead or something. They were all ‘of’ somewhere.” We walked into the small harbour village of St Aubin in silence. Once again walking into a once populated area had heightened our desire for self-preservation. Suddenly my head was snapping around when I saw movement out of the corners of my eyes but it was still just rubbish in wind.
“Shall we eat something?” Asked Paula.
“No,” I replied. “Hey, Marcel, you want to say something? Let people know you’re still here?”
“This is stupid,” said Marcel. “Why are we here?”
“I’m not going through it again, Marcel,” I told him. If any of us get killed it’s going to be him first. “But another thing about The Dark Tower series is, and this could be important, it didn’t matter where they went, you know? Or what they did because everything that happened was simply ascribed to fate – or ‘Ka’, as it was called in the book. We can’t fuck this up. It’s impossible.”
“I don’t understand,” said Marcel. Fuck me, and I thought Paula was thick.
“We’re just going to go with the flow, find the Dark Tower. And the flower. And Enrique’s heroin.”
“And why am I here?” He asked.
“I don’t know and I don’t fucking care,” I told him. “Enrique, you’re not talking much either. People seem to like you, you’re still here, right?”
“I still here. I probably talk more soon but is my han’. My han’ is hurt like a -“
“Look!” Next to the burnt-out remains of a petrol station was a building that was incongruous with it’s surrounding. Whereas most buildings were overgrown with weeds and had broken windows with curtains flapping out this one was surrounded with plants that to my untrained eye looked tended. Not quite neat but certainly not wild and a parting in this foliage revealed a large perfect window, but it was not even the path that had caught my eye. Inside the large window was light. A lantern or a small fire. Had the sky not darkened to the degree it had I probably wouldn’t have noticed. Ka? Definitely!
“We go, the book in there,” said Enrique not waiting for a response and starting across the road.
“Wait!” I said. We hadn’t properly weighed-up the situation. The village certainly looked deserted from where we were – save for this building opposite – but there were back streets we hadn’t yet explored.
“I no wait,” said Enrique and he was between the greenery and stood in front of the window with his hands behind his back. His bad hand was swollen horribly. I winced at Paula and we followed. Enrique was suddenly calling the shots.
“This used to be a laundrette, I’m sure,” I told them. It wasn’t a laundrette now. Now it seemed to be a shop of some kind. On display in the window were various nick-nacks, plates, Kinect peripherals for the Xbox 360 and tin signs. A German helmet was hung at the side of the window but taking up most window was a rocking horse. There was definitely a lantern burning inside.
“Vamos!” Said Enrique going for the door which was to the side of the window. A bell tinkled as the door opened and without hesitating Enrique was inside and after a brief look at each other we again followed. The interior was dark although there were actually several lanterns burning. It seemed to be not quite an antique shop as a lot of the items we fairly recent – there was a case filled with iPhone23s. But neither was it a cash converters because there were wooden things.
“Books yeah, guys?” I said and we made our way through the building which was cluttered and narrow but long.
“Books?” Said a ruddy-faced scarecrow of a man from the dark corner of the shop. Paula screamed and one of us trumped. It wasn’t me I swear, I’d admit it if it was, okay? No big deal but it wasn’t me. I reckon it was Marcel. It doesn’t matter anyway. No big deal. I’d seen the figure in the corner when we came in and thought it a statue. The man stepped further towards us until he was fully illuminated by the flickering lanterns. He looked okay, nice and friendly really. Nice rosey cheeks he had.
“Good morrow,” said Enrique to the man and this time it probably was me who trumped, “I am Enrique of Bogota and these are my companions,” he said with a sweep of his good arm. “Marcel of Riems.”
“May we be met well,” said Marcel with a slight bow.
“Paula of Dudley,” said Enrique.
“Long days and pleasant nights,” said Paula doing a curtsey.
“Jeremy of Spar,” said Enrique. I guessed he meant me. Talking fucked was clearly part of the deal here. Had the others come under some kind of spell? I didn’t know, I certainly hadn’t. But then I wasn’t going to say ‘wassup.’ It seemed like I had to talk like them so as to not ruin everything, which, I’ve heard, is a large part of how hypnotism works.
“May thee… force… be… with (NO!) be, erm, with your back! pushing you!” Good save, I thought as I did a small bow.
“Say thankya big big!” Said the man to Enrique. “You be looking for a book?” He asked.
“That is what has brought us to this establishment, tis true,” said Enrique. Enrique, although saying pleasant things had fixed the shop-keep with a steely stare.
“If it be books what you seek-“
“It be,” interrupted Enrique.
“Let him finish,” I said.
“Then books I have,” said then man moving backwards and to the side revealing a three tiered bookshelf against the back wall. Enrique licked his lips and approached the shelves. I too went over. The top shelf consisted of hardback cookbooks. Mostly Jamie Oliver ones. I leant in close and ran my finger along the titles of the second shelf. They were old woman books. One shelf left. Could it be? Nah, the bottom shelf was just fourteen copies of Freddie Flintoff’s autobiography. I stood and shook my head.
“I will part with Flintoff for sev… eighty minutes with your woman.”
“No diceth!” Said Enrique.
“Twenty?” Asked then man.
“Does thou be familiar with the Dark Tower?” Asked Enrique still through narrowed eyes. He didn’t trust the man for whatever reason.
“Be it the Dark Tower you seek?” Asked the man and I detected a slight stutter.
“Aye,” replied Enrique, “do thee ken of it?”
“I ken of it. But you do not want it, Sai, there is nothing good to come from reading that wretched tome,” the man said. He didn’t look as confident as Enrique.
“We have travelled far to find The Dark Tower, Jeremy once possessed a Kindle edition but with the world moving on he cannot charge it without crackle-ether, thence I shall ask thee one more time, and thinkee well before yee reply, where is The Dark Tower?”
The man laughed nervously and blinked hard. “I cry thee pardon, Enrique of Bogota, The Dark Tower is well known, of course. As anybody who has read that hateful seventh novel in the series will attest that to read it is to give oneself over to despair and darkness.”
“We are prepared to stare into that abyss,” said Enrique. “Now fair warning shop-keep, how can we find the book?”
The man nodded, his smile that had been nervous regained some confidence. “Shop-keep? Tis that what you think I be? Oh Enrique and his guild!” The man’s voice was becoming shrill as he looked us all over. “Very thee well, let’s parlay. I shall lead you to your precious The Dark Tower but know that what’s read cannot be unread.”
“We shall take that risk,” said Enrique, “Now talk, old man!”
“You be as old as I!” He replied. “Verilly well,” he continued producing a handkerchief and dabbing his cheeks. “There be a horse, not just any horse but a magical horse as old as paper. A seer.”
I’m thinking uh-oh at this point.
“The horse will aid those pure of heart but first there is a door, I cannot tell you where but if thee find the door to the horse and thou proves to the horse with an act of -“
“Okay, we’ve found the horse,” said Enrique.
“Then you know how to find what you seek, why then do I find you here fixing me under your gaze?” Asked the man suspiciously puzzled.
“Do thee knowith what the horse foretold?” Asked Enrique.
“Aye,” said the man.
“I bet thou don’t!” Said Paula. Enrique turned to her and nodded and then turned back to the man.
“I bet thou don’t!” Said Enrique.
“I doith!” Said the man defensively.
“Provith ith!” I lisped. I honestly thought it’d work but as we looked on the flames of the lanterns in the shop flickered wildly even though there was no breeze and for a split second the man’s true skeletal visage was revealed. The way the others recoiled suggested they too had seen his true form. “Actually, we will take our leave,” I said.
“I think that would be very wise,” said the man who suddenly seemed six inches taller than he’d been. We backed up and then turned. “Oh that’s nice,” I said pointing at a horrible vase but I was walking as fast as I could, practically pushing the others. I didn’t breath until we were all back across the road. From there the shop was completely dark, the lanterns had been extinguished.
“Enrique?” I asked.
“Que?” He replied.
“Oh thank fuck, thought you were going to be talking funny for however long this fucking thing is going on for.”
“No, I talky-a-like-a-dis-again.”
“Good enough!” I said and we all laughed and slept in a tunnel.
Enrique was dangling three seagulls and a hedgehog from string when he returned to the entrance of the tunnel. He was looking very pleased with himself.
“I knew he’d fuck it up,” I told Paula quietly. I didn’t want Enrique to hear because he’d obviously done something, which was more than we had. It had been our task to light the fire to cook our breakfast but we didn’t have a lighter. We also hadn’t gathered any wood. I didn’t think he’d catch anything.
“I’m not eating those,” Paula told him with genuine dismay.
“You no eat dis?” He said dropping them near where the fire should have been – the empty space we were sat around. “Why you no eat dis?” He asked sitting down. “I eat dis.”
“I don’t think you can eat seagulls,” I said.
“Those,” I said pointing to the pillowy white and black pile.
“Yeah, what did you think they were?” I asked faking a chuckle and looking at Paula.
“Dey okay. Tasty,” he replied picking one up by its beak.
“Nah, they’re not. I seriously don’t think you can eat them. Like flamingoes. I’ve never heard of anybody eating them. What do you think that is?” I asked pointing at the hedgehog which was either still alive or just uncurling slowly because it wasn’t.
“Nah, it’s not,” I told him. “How did you even catch them? You said you were going fishing.” Enrique just shook his head. He pursed his mouth and moved his lips across his face and back.
“Chu go necks time,” he said.
“Well, okay, we will.”
“Chu do dat,” snapped Enrique. I’d slept like a baby under the racks in the tunnel but it seemed Enrique had had a bad night.
“I said we’ll do it. We couldn’t do any worse, could we? So no need to sulk.”
“Sulk? I no sulk,” said Enrique sulkily while he sat there sulking. “Good fire!” He added clapping his hands slowly.
“We knew there was no point in making a fire because we fucking knew you’d bring back… fucking… that!”
He picked up the hedgehog and looked it over.
“You can’t peel it, it’s not- gah!” I stood up and shook my head. “Let’s just move on.” I said picking up my rucksack.
“How long is this going to go on?” Asked Paula. “I’m not enjoying this. Nobody’s enjoying this. It was better when we back in the shop.”
“You think I don’t know that?” What was this, pick on Jamie day? “I know it was better when we were just in the shop and all we had to worry about were crazy situations but we’re here now and we’re going to have to deal with it.”
“It’s just all shit though…” Paula trailed off. Jesus, a fucking guilt trip! I know I’d gotten them into it but I only planned on it taking a few more days. Hold out a few more days.
“What can we do then, smart guy? Just go back to the shop? Then what? Shop’s probably gone anyway. What about the horse and the Dark Tower? Just pretend it never happened?”
“Listen, we find The Dark Tower and next week we’ll probably be back in the shop as if none of this had happened.”
“And if we don’t find it?”
“Well, we won’t with that attitude, will we?” I said my voice a bit high pitched. I watched as Paula just shook her head. Enrique had gone over to the concrete wall facing the entrance to the tunnel. It was on old railway tunnel but Jersey hadn’t had a railway for a hundred years or something. It burnt down. The Germans had built a large concrete wall about twenty feet in front of the tunnel’s entrance for some reason. Enrique was throwing the hedgehog against it as hard as he could. “Where’s Marcel anyway?” I asked. Paula looked around. I went over to the tunnel’s entrance. It was a couple of hundred metres long and straight and the other end had been blocked up most if its height but there was enough of a gap at the top to let some light in. I shouted for Marcel twice before he answered.
“Look at this.” He shouted from halfway down the tunnel. The others had heard him and followed me down.
“Ha! Terry the Train!” I announced. Marcel had pulled a tarpaulin off the front of it. “It’s that stupid little train that goes along the front.” We uncovered the rest of it. It really was an idiotic vehicle. Why did it look like a train? I have no fucking idea. It was a tractor thing made to look like a train. Tourists sat in the back of it and it went along the front, along the cycle track. I used to race it sometimes. I’d try and not look at the tourists sat glumly in the back listening to the recording that pointed out the noteworthy sights along its route as I ran past it pretending not to be out of breath so the tourists would be impressed with me. The train went about 6:40-6:50min/mile. Handy in a strong headwind though as I could run behind it and get some shelter.
We stood looking at train for a few moments before the others headed for the exit. I stood longer looking at Terry. I looked towards the entrance and saw my three companions in silhouette. Enrique was tossing the hedgehog from one hand to the other. He hadn’t got it open yet. Their silhouettes looked like they were bitching to each other. About me no doubt. I looked back at the train, came to a decision and then followed them out. They were waiting for me, keen to get going God knows where.
“The train,” I said and saw Paula roll here eyes. “No, listen. In The Dark Tower series – and this is the point the wheels really came off it – in the books there’s a train.”
“That’s hardly a train,” said Marcel.
“I know that but the one in the book wasn’t a real train either. It was a monorail.”
“A monorail?” He asked.
“Yeah, and it talked.” God, it was stupid in my head but saying it out loud was something else.
“It loved riddles.”
“Why do you read that shit?” Paula asked with her face screwed up.
“I don’t know, Paula, it’d been good up until that point. Up until they all got on the train that loved puzzles and talked in a funny voice and laughed.”
“That train no speak,” Enrique said pointing into the tunnel.
“But it does,” I said. “It tells people what’s on the way, Lily Langtry’s house, the Gunsite. It might tell us the way, don’t you see?”
“No,” said Paula. She was really beginning to get on my nerves with her negativity.
“We get this train going, drive it along the front and we’ll be one step closer to The Dark Tower. I know it!” Although I couldn’t see them I sensed my eyes were sparkling.
“Marcel, do you think you can get the train running?” I asked him.
“Let’s see,” he said, “I carry coal around outside of a shop, so yeah, I’m sure I could!” I think he was being sarcastic but he disappeared back into the tunnel grumbling. Good enough. Forty minutes later Terry the Train trundled squealing out of the tunnel and into the light for the first time in a long time. Marcel rung the little bell.
“For fucks sake,” said Paula.
“All aboard!” I shouted. I got in the first compartment behind the driver. I’d never been on Terry the Train. I wiped the dusty seat before I sat down. I thought the others would get in with me but Paula and Enrique got in the back one. So I got out and went and got in the back one because I wasn’t sitting on my own. “This’ll be good,” I told them. Marcel rung the bell again and we were off. After twenty seconds and less than one hundred metres the train ran out of diesel.
“What do we do now?” Asked Paula.
What do we do now?? I can’t even think of any fucking options.
It’s long been a desire of mine to witness a plane crash or to find a dead body washed up on the beach. If I saw a plane crash the press would interview me and I’d be a hero. If I found a dead body on the beach I’d tell the police and the press would interview me and I’d be a hero. That’s what I’d always thought but There were no thoughts of heroism when we found the three corpses in the police station. The police station is in part of the parish hall in St Aubin. The parish hall was once a railway station but Jersey doesn’t have a railway any more because it burnt down. I told you that already. It’s the parish hall now. And a police station.
We’d gone there looking for diesel for Terry the Train.
There were three cells at the back of the police station and each contained a dried out body. These were the first dead humans I’d seen since we left although I sensed if we’d wanted to we could find a lot more. We all expected to find death, I’m sure, but what shocked me about these three was the fact I recognised the clothing that hung off the sunken bodies. “Paula!” I shouted.
Spring of 2012
“Paula, pigs!” I shouted when I saw the police tractor pull into the car park. I’d been staring into the car park lamenting the shit weather. I didn’t think Paula was doing anything illegal, of course, but I warned her of the presence of the cops anyway. They parked sideways, ignoring the bays and against the far wall. A policeman driving hopped down and came into the shop leaving his partner on the tractor wolf-whistling at passing schoolchildren from beneath his Raybans.
I hardly even break the law that much but the police make me nervous for some reason.
The policeman came in and stood and surveyed the store and pulled up his trousers with his wrists. His Bat Belt must’ve been heavy because quite often he’d pull his trousers up, but using the inside of his wrists rather than his fingers, it might have been a mental thing.
“Relax!” He said, clearly reading my nerves, “just want some sausage rolls and a couple of bottles of Oasis. Red Oasis.”
I smiled but didn’t look at his face long because then I could see myself in his mirrored sunglasses. Me standing behind the counter in a Spar smiling at a policeman but really looking at my own sad eyes where his eyes should have been. He stood for a moment longer before clapping his hands and chuckling, “Well, hop to it, Boy!”
“Oh you want… how many sausage rolls?” I asked heading to Paula and hoping to fuck she hadn’t cut them all too short. Paula had been cutting too much off the ends of the sausages rolls recently. They were practically cocktail sausage rolls by mid-morning on most days. He wanted four of course, was I stupid or something?! And he helpfully reminded me not to forget the Oasis of which he wanted two bottles of the red variety. One for him and one for his partner, I surmised. They’d wash down the sausage rolls with it.
I went back behind the counter and rang it up on the till. The policeman was still standing just inside the doorway hoiking up his trousers every twenty seconds or so. I stood there like a dummy for a while but the policeman made no move to pay. He just did his trouser thing.
“So, is that it?” I asked – my voice only just managing the break the silence.
“That’s it, boy,” He replied.
“That’s four pound ninety-eight.”
The policeman chuckled again. He had no intention of paying. “Put it on my tab,” he said. He didn’t have a tab.
“I er,” I said. I didn’t give a fuck if he just stole the stuff. You know? If he grabbed it off me and left but he was sort of asking me to break the law by just giving him the stuff and I thought it could possibly have been a set-up. A honey-pot trap. And so I pressed the panic button. Enrique must’ve been on his way out anyway because he opened his door as soon as I pressed.
“Enrique!” The policeman shouted when he saw him.
“Capy Tan!” replied Enrique coming over to shake his hand.
“You keeping your nose clean?”
“Oh yes yes yes I only use, er, inject. In my arm,” replied Enrique with surprising candour.
“Good for you!” Said Captain. I don’t know whether that was his rank or just a nickname that Enrique had given him. “Your boy here’s trying to charge me for a couple of measly sausage rolls, can you believe that?” He asked.
“Dis boy?” Asked Enrique pointing at me. I waved. “Don’t worry, I get dis,” he told me. I held the bag up and Enrique came and grabbed it and then took it the three steps to Captain who took the bag nodding.
“I’ll be seeing you boys,” Captain said turning to leave but before he could something in the car park caused him to stop dead and lift up his sunglasses. Three tall children on bicycles had swept in off the main road. They were wearing a mishmash of retro cycling clothing and golf attire. Their bicycles did not appear to have brakes of even gears and yet they each managed to skid to a halt before holding a track stand for a couple of seconds and then dismounting. Pedal-back brakes, I guessed. They leant their bicycles on the railings in front of the doors and then they started krumping. They krumped for a good minute. “What in the name of fuck?” Asked Captain. I looked over and saw that the krumpers had also caught the attention of Captain’s partner who was now staring over and he had also lifted up his sunglasses.
“It’s krumping!” I said. The Captain turned to me.
“It’s what?” He asked me but now he wasn’t talking down to me and I liked that.
“Krumping, it’s a kind of dance. I saw it on America’s Next Top Model. Clown dancing they sometimes call it.”
“Clown dancing, oh boy don’t that sound about right?!” Captain bellowed his face delighted as he leant towards me still holding his glasses up with one hand which meant he was now hitching his trousers up with a single wrist. I was on his side. I’d been practically deputised. I laughed. “I ain’t never seen the likes of that!” He told me. When the three children walked into the shop I saw that they were adults. Proper adults. 25 even 30 years old. One wore a beret, one a beanie and the last a full on cycling aero-helmet complete with visor. That one also had Vibram Five Fingers on his feet. I fancy trying a pair of those.
The men-children walked in not giving Enrique or Captain a glance. I saw Captain was shaking his head at them but they didn’t notice. They disappeared into the bowels of the shop and I mouthed ‘hipsters’ to Captain. ‘From London,’ I added silently.
“What’s that, boy, cat got your tongue?” He asked. I looked over. The hipsters were towards the back of the shop and saying words loudly. Words that sounded like ‘rapha’ and ‘dub step.’
“Hipsters,” I said, louder this time but I still exaggerated my mouth movements. “From London.”
“Hipsters?” Said Captain dropping his sunglasses back onto his nose and then using two wrists to pull up his trousers. His shopping banged against his leg. His partner came into the store and nodded over to the hipsters. Captain just shook his head, they obviously knew each other inside out. The three hipsters came to the counter with a, “hello, geezer!”
“Wotcha,” I replied ringing up their purchases but I flashed the police a discreet smile as I did to revel in being right about them being from London. They were buying a box of Mikado, honey roasted cashews and some Dairylea Dunkers. They didn’t seem to notice the po-po until the one paying was entering his PIN. He looked around and nodded at the two police officers and Enrique before covering the terminal and punching in his number.
“Something to hide?” Asked Captain lightly.
“Ah, well, you know, can’t be too careful, eh, mate?” He said.
“I ain’t your mate, boy!” Boomed Captain.
The chip and pinner smiled and looked to his mates and then to Captain. “Nah, that’s just ‘ow we talk in London.”
“You’re not in London now,” said Captain. His partner nodded and Enrique joined in and then so did I. “What brings you to our pissant little island anyways?” Asked Captain before the man could respond.
“We is opening a juice bar in town, know what I mean?”
“You’re what now?”
“Smoothies, innit, flat whites, probably start selling fixies too. It’s going to be solid, innit.”
“You ain’t making no sense, boy!” Said Captain shaking his head. He glanced briefly at his partner who telepathically pulled out his truncheon.
“Yeah, you ain’t making no sense!” That one said pointing his truncheon but his voice was really really high whereas I’d been expecting it to be deep. It was like when I’d first heard Ronaldo, now of Real Madrid, talk in an interview, but in reverse.
“Take it easy, Geezer!” Said the one wearing the aero-helmet.
“You boys know anything about the murder?” Asked Captain as his partner pointed his stick.
“Murder?” One asked and Captain put down his bag and pulled up his trousers with his wrists then produced some black and white photographs of a child with its penis hacked off.
“Oof!” I said.
“Fackin’ ‘ell!” Replied the hipsters in unison.
“Guilty conscience?” Asked Captain.
“Okay, we is going to go now,” beret said. I didn’t expect them to be allowed to leave but the two police moved aside when the hipsters headed for the exit.
“Be seein’ you boys!” Said Captain. The hats nodded.
“Yeah, we be seein’ you boys,” screeched his partner. The hipsters didn’t nod at him and then they were on their bikes and pedalling off, again, once mounted, looking just like children.
“Well ain’t that a howdy doody?” Asked Captain ushering out his partner. They sat on the tractor eating their sausage rolls. When Captain pulled the first out he seemed to study its length for so long that I was sure he was going to spring off the tractor and come in for a confrontation. I was relieved when he took a bite. Captain must’ve been on a diet because he’d chew his for a long time and then spit it over the side of the tractor. Eventually the tractor rumbled into life and they vibrated off.
“I think those hipsters are in trouble,” I told Enrique who nodded agreement. They were arrested that night and the trial was the next day and they were found guilty that night. The only forensic evidence linking them to the crime was the fact the murdered boy was bound with cassette tape and the hipsters listened to music on yellow Sony Sports Walkmans and they had no satisfactory explanation – in this age of compact discs – as to why. Everybody was happy to have the case closed as it’d hung over the island, like a sick crow on a powerful up-draft, for a long long time.
“Paula!” I shouted and she appeared. I moved aside and she stood on her tip-toes to look in the hatch of the cell door.
“Aero-helmet,” she said sadly.
“Stan,” I said. “His name was Stan. You know they only locked them up for being different?”
“I know,” she replied. “They probably did do it though.”
“Maybe,” I said going to the next cell and peering in. Beret was still in there. His Sony Sports Walkman by his side. Beret’s real name was also Stan. They were all called Stan actually. The Three S(a)tans or The Dancing Killer Time-Travelling Stupid Bike Riding Freak Nob-Heads from Shoreditch as they were collectively known in the media. Not long before the world slipped there was a rumour that they’d won right to appeal on the grounds that although time travel had been proven conclusively by Einstein that theory only covered moving forward in time. The murder happened 14 years before the eldest one of them was born. It’s moot now and I was relieved somewhat. I had testified at their trial. I’d said under oath that The Three S(a)tans had krumped like maniacs outside the doors of our shop. That revelation had drawn gasps from the jury but It was only a half truth. They hadn’t Krumped at all. I’d made that bit up hoping the press would interview me and I’d be a hero. They’d simply parked their bikes and came into the shop but they looked like they might know how to Krump. I certainly wouldn’t have put it past them.
“Let’s find some diesel, yeah?” I said.
“Okay,” said Paula. “It’s now imperative we find The Dark Tower!” She added.
“I said, shut up.”
We were no closer to finding The Dark Tower. If anything it was like we weren’t even looking for it. There was no hidden stash of diesel. There was nothing anywhere. Coming to St Aubin had not progressed the story one little bit. We sat on the bonnet of a car abandoned behind the railings of the harbour which was empty of anything that even resembled a floatable boat.
“I fell in this harbour,” I said gazing at the exposed harbour floor. There were parts of boats embedded in the mud. The grey mud was either slowly absorbing these parts or spitting them out. No good bits, only rubbish bits. Like The Mary Rose. I’d watched that thing get raised on live TV when I was a tiny child. I’d expected a majestic galleon to rise out of the water – with sails intact – instead it had just been a few shitty bits of wood. They couldn’t let the wood dry out or the Mary Rose would be ruined, it had been stressed, like it wasn’t completely ruined already. It could not have been any more ruined. Man, that day had been a disappointment. “Twice,” I added thinking the harbour would look much better when the tide came in and hid all these dead boat parts.
“Twice?” Said Marcel and I looked at him to see if I could be bothered giving him any more details. I could.
“Yeah,” I chuckled. “Once on a bike. I was riding down here on a bike and I hit one of-” I looked along the metre gap between the car parking and the railings, you weren’t supposed to ride your bike along this bit but as a child I was out of control, “one of those small bollards. Like half a football. I’d hit one and that was it. I was in the harbour. Felt like I was falling for a long time. My short life flashed before my eyes, I mean that’s true. You hear it and it just sounds like something people say but literally as I was falling it did. I wasn’t scared though, you know? I just accepted it. These railings weren’t here.”
“Was the tide in?”
“Yeah, just about. And there’s a concrete dry dock thing down there.” I stood and looked down. The concrete was covered. I sat back down. “I hit all the ropes going down. If I’d hit the concrete, or a boat, well…”
“It’s a long way down,” said Paula.
“It’s not worth thinking about. No, it is a big drop, but I was lucky. I guess it just wasn’t my time. My bike went over and was tangled in the ropes, I climbed up the ladder, one of these ones, and then even managed to get my bike back by pulling a rope.”
“So I get up and turn around and there’s a parked car about there and there’s a guy sitting in it reading the newspaper. You know? He must’ve missed it all. Massive excitement happening three feet in front of him and he missed it. Probably the most exciting thing he could ever witness.”
“And you weren’t hurt?” Asked Marcel
“Not at all, some say it’s a miracle I wasn’t killed. Miracle? I dunno.” I said.
“And you did it again?”
“Yeah, from over there, but that was Ram-Jam’s fault. But, yeah, both times I didn’t have a mark on me. I’ve never broken a bone.” I said and this elicited an impressed whistle from Enrique. “You have?” I asked him.
“I broke bone, man. When I eighteen I broke all five bone in my body,” he said looking at his arms and then stretching out his legs and looking at them.
“How?” asked Paula.
“Five?” Asked me looking at Marcel but Marcel was intrigued. Enrique went on to tell them but my mind was racing. I was trying to think of a good injury so people would stop listening to Enrique and focus on me again. I was also thinking that Enrique looked a bit like Dr Nick Riviera crossed with the guy from Miami Vice. He’d stopped talking. Good. “I shut my thumb in a safe door,” I said but when I turned I saw Paula was crying, Marcel looked grave and Enrique had stood up and pursed his lips and was staring at the horizon. Slightly louder this time, “I said, I shut my thumb in a safe door. did you hear me? Pulled the nail off.” I looked at my thumb and then the other one. “Think it was that one.” Fucking idiots. “What did he say?” I asked Paula but she was really sobbing. She stood and put an arm around Enrique who nodded with appreciation when he felt it. “Take it easy, guys!” I said but it was like I was invisible.
“Hey!” Said Marcel. He was lifting his polo shirt. “Hey!” He said again. We all looked at him and he pointed to the middle of his chest.
“Are you going to say some girl broke your heart?” I asked. He let his T-shirt drop. “What about you. Paula? Your fanny got mashed up pretty bad that time you had an abortion, didn’t it?” She nodded. She’d stopped crying, I think she’d been putting it on. “That the worst?”
“Oh no,” she said sitting back on the bonnet of the car which strained the suspension causing me to try to grab the smooth bodywork so I didn’t slide off. She dragged herself up the bonnet a bit with her palms and then took her leg off.
“No fucking way!” I said. Paula held it out and Marcel took it.
“Wait there,” said Paula and then she took her other leg off. Marcel picked that one up and banged them together.
“That’s what a coconut should sound like,” I told Enrique. “But Paula, how? Why? Legs?”
“I know, I know, I didn’t want to say anything. I was going to but when you mentioned the woman in the book didn’t have legs I just – it’s too weird. I didn’t want to admit it. It suddenly makes all this real like a documentary.”
“Paula!” I said sitting next to her and patting her shoulder. Enrique and Marcel joined us on the bonnet.
“Let’s have a sing song, yeah?” I said. “That should cheer us up.”
The others grumbled.
“On top of spaghetti, all covered in cheese, I lost- come on, guys, my poor meatball- come on guys you must know this one!” I had to sing it through three times before they even began to pick up the words. Enrique couldn’t say ‘mush’ at all. After 20 minutes they all had it down pat (whatever that means) and – I guess we were relieving tension – we were singing at the top of our voices and as fast as we could. Paula was leaning forward and drumming on the bonnet where her legs should have been. Faster and faster we sang. Louder and louder we sang. We were losing ourselves like Red Indians and then with a bang the world shook causing us all to stop mid-song and come crashing back to reality, wide-eyed and petrified.
“The wheel pop,” said Enrique leaning over the side. Marcel jumped off and I slid down the bonnet but I hadn’t noticed stupid Marcel had left Paula’s legs leaning against the grill of the car. I knocked them and before I could grab them, because of the unbalanced way they were weighted, they toppled into the harbour with a double splat.
“Oh, not my fucking legs,” sighed Paula.
“I’ll get them,” I said leaning over the railing. I’d have to wade through deep mud. “Shall I get them?” I asked Paula.
“I could do with them,” she replied.
“Of course, so you want me to get them?”
“Well I can’t wal-“
“Just yes or no, it’s a simple question. Could do without these riddles right now. Fucking hell, women! Why won’t they just say what they mean?” I exclaimed. Turns out she did want them. Quel Surprise. Getting them was a bit of a saga. “And leave them on this time,” I told her handing them over. “I gotta find somewhere to wash my feet,” I said. I stood with my hands on my hips and my trousers rolled up to the knees. The mud on my legs and feet was drying rapidly. I looked around and my gaze was drawn to the large hotel which sat on the hill and loomed over the harbour. “I think we need to go there,” I said. I held my gaze and the other’s followed it.
“And cut!” Shouted the Director, Crispian Mills who used to be in Kula Shaker. A woman handed me a pair of slippers and I put them on. People were congratulating Enrique for some reason and Paula was being lifted out of the bonnet of the car. The bonnet had two holes cut in it for her real legs. “That was brilliant,” said Crispian who was marching towards me.
“Thanks,” I replied but Crispian didn’t break stride. He was smiling and heading past me for Enrique. “Crispian,” I said.
“Yeah, sure soon,” he said turning but not slowing. “Out-bloody-standing!” Crispian was saying to Enrique while shaking his whole lower arm. Lots of people were laughing. I wasn’t.
“That was good, eh?” Said a woman hurrying past me. I stood for a while waiting for Crispian to come over but it didn’t look like he would any time soon. I headed to my trailer. On the way I saw a man carrying a huge reel of cables.
“Did you see that?” I asked him.
“Oh yeah, mate, you were wonderful,” he said.
“Bit stupid though, with the legs? I didn’t write that bit.”
“Yeah, I don’t know, mate,” he replied. He was clearly very busy. I nodded. I had one last look back and then went in and picked the mud off my feet.
That night there was a knock on the trailer door. It was Enrique. “Movie star!” He said waving two bottles of wine. I was pleased to see him, I don’t mind admitting it. I let him in. He had all the questions I’ve come to dread.
Q – How brilliant is it being a big movie star?
A – Not very.
Q – How rich am I now.
A – Not very.
Q – Who’s playing Enrique
A – Simon Pegg
I actually wanted to talk about the shop but Enrique wasn’t interested. It was all fine, apparently. He asked me if I had any heroin. I didn’t. I told him somebody was bound to have some in one of the other trailers. He could try Stephen Baldwin’s trailer – he was playing Marcel. Enrique said he’d be too nervous to ask him then five minutes later he changed his mind and went out. He didn’t come back.
Up and up the spiral stone steps I went. My legs were burning like a Tibetan monk but it was a good burn as I hadn’t run for so long. Limits did not seem to apply and somehow I was able to mount the stone steps faster and faster. Two, three, four steps at a time until it was impossible to tell if I was climbing or if the tower was corkscrewing down while I floated in the same place. Five minutes, five years, time had lost all meaning. I thought that possibly there was no top to the tower, that this lung-bursting effort I was putting in was all there was left and I’d be doing it forever but that idea wasn’t entirely displeasing. And yet as soon as I’d thunk that think I came to the cavernous landing and the door. Despite my effort as soon as I saw the door my cardiovascular system was calm and recovered. My heart rate was back to 42bpm and I was breathing gently. It was silent and dark, though not pitch black as the doors, as the steps had been, were illuminated from an unseen light source. There were no windows in The Dark Tower but there was a door. The door myself and my fallen companions had searched so long for. I considered them for a moment, my comrades – Marcel, Enrique and Paula. The memory of their demise filled me with rage and energy and I was ready to face whatever was behind the door although I already knew what was there hidden behind the double hardwood doors with ornate cast iron hinges. The doors were the doors to the source of all good and evil in the world. Their deaths were not to be in vain. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and charged. The doors which had looked impenetrable gave with the ease of hanging beads in a sex shop. I saw the blood and capillaries in my eyelids and heard a thrum. I opened my eyes.
A man was thrusting a Daily Mirror at me and I took it unthinking and scanned it. I looked up. I saw Paula cutting the ends off the sausages rolls. I looked out. Outside it was raining.